Microsoft releases iSCSI drivers

Microsoft's recent release of iSCSI drivers for its operating systems will no doubt fuel mass market acceptance of the newly minted standard.

The Internet Engineering Task Force formally adopted the iSCSI standard in February, but in the interim some customers have been wondering if and how they can make use of it. Microsoft's answer so far is the iSCSI Software Initiator Version 1.0 for Windows Server 2003, Windows 2000 and Windows XP Professional.

Many vendors have beaten Microsoft to the punch with iSCSI support, especially the storage networking crowd like Adaptec and with host bus adapters from suppliers including LSI Logic. Major storage players including IBM, Sun and others have also already implemented iSCSI.

But, for better or for worse, nobody drives the mass market quite like Microsoft. Because of its reach, particularly among consumers and small to medium sized businesses, iSCSI should get a huge shot in the arm now that the folks in Redmond have given the standard a thumbs-up.

Being that this is version 1.0, it behooves customers to approach this cautiously. Like any new product there are kinks to work out and things to consider - most especially the security implications of using IP rather than Fibre Channel. But there's no reason why some shops couldn't use iSCSI to, say, network some non-mission critical Windows servers together at this point. There are plenty of security products out there; it's just a matter of what you want to spend and how it all fits into your IT infrastructure.

Like just about everything in the computer industry, it comes down to which choices are better (not necessarily "best") at a particular point in time. There are tradeoffs to be made - in this case, security and performance of Fibre Channel versus ease of use and less expense with iSCSI. Large organizations will probably find they need both for different classes of applications, where smaller shops may be able to get by with only iSCSI at some point.

And like with just about any technology, there will be a learning curve involved with iSCSI simply because it is new. So it is a good idea to start learning about it now, even if you use it for just a couple of applications or servers or in testing mode for a while.

That way, when version 2.0 of Microsoft's drivers becomes available, maybe it (and you) will be ready for more mission-critical applications.

In the meantime, you can get more information about Microsoft's free iSCSI download at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2003/jun03/06-30iscsiwindowssupportpr.asp, including links to more resources.

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